Review: Toshiba Encore WT8 8″ Windows 8 Tablet

toshiba encore windows 8 tablet

I’ve always loved portable computing, and although my iPad and subsequent iPad Mini were both excellent devices, I’ve always had a hankering for something a bit more ‘usable’.

I picked up an original Microsoft Surface thinking it would be exactly what I needed, but the lack of full software support, and limited Apps left me underwhelmed. Although I could do a great deal on it, full Microsoft Office support for example was huge there were a few key things like lack of corporate VPN support and quirks in IE when using WordPress that meant it would never serve as a full time device.It was also a little larger than I liked, I wanted something close to my iPad Mini in size.

Fast forward to the availability of the Intel Baytrail chips and I decided an inexpensive 8″ (full) Windows 8 tablet might be just what I needed.

The current range of choices break down to the Dell Venue 8 Pro, Toshiba Encore WT8, Lenovo Miix 2 and Acer Iconia W4. There is also more recently the Lenovo Thinkpad 8 but this has slightly higher specs and costs slightly more.

All of the main 4 above are available for around £200-£250 in the UK but recently some were available for less which finally prompted me to buy one.

All are similar in specs, an Intel Baytrail Z3740 1.33ghz processor, 2GB RAM, 32GB (most have a 64GB option) flash storage, microSD support, and a 1280x800px display.

A key difference for me was the availability of HDMI out, which I wanted in order to keep the microUSB port free for charging, and this narrowed it down to the Toshiba Encore WT8 and the Acer Iconia W4.

I preferred the looks of the Toshiba and it had a better price on Amazon (£199) compared to the Acer (£249) so I decided to go for it.

Hardware

The Toshiba Encore measures 213mm W x 136mm H and has a depth of 11.0 mm. Its not exactly thin and light when compared to the iPad Mini (7.5mm thick) and is even slightly bigger and heavier than the comparable Dell Venue 8 Pro, but the additional size leads to a larger battery and allows the inclusion of things like the microHDMI port, so I’m happy with the compromise.

toshiba encore windows 8 tablet

There is a decent size bezel at around 18mm top and bottom and 11mm on the sides, and this helps hold the tablet without touching the screen. On the lower bezel is the touch sensitive Windows key, and a Toshiba logo.

The top side houses the microHDMI and microUSB ports and the headphone/microphone combination 3.5mm jack. It also has opening for the dual microphones.

Right side has the power on/off button and volume up/down keys. The left side has the microSD slot (up to 32GB) and the bottom has dual speaker slots. Holding the tablet in landscape mode you’re likely to cover of of these, but I generally listen to anything with headphones so not a big deal for me.

The rear of the tablet is a silver slightly mottled effect leaving it more tactile than smooth plastic, but still quite slippery. I will be investigating case options fairly soon.

toshiba encore windows 8 tablet - rear view

Build quality wise – the device is plastic, so there is definitely some movement and flex if you bend or twist the device, but not so much that you would worry about breaking it. The screen has some flex and pushing on the middle of it you can feel it bend and touch whatever is behind it. But how often do you press hard on the middle of your touchscreen? It doesn’t happen in day-to-day usage, and in general the device is

The display does lack a grease rejection (Oleophobic) layer however, and will need regular cleaning to avoid a build-up of touch prints.

Software

So on board we have Windows 8.1 (after updating) with it’s modern UI front and full Desktop experience behind.

My plan initially is to use the tablet with its tile interface when mobile, with the ability to switch over to “full” Desktop mode with an external monitor and Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to get ‘work’ done.

So far, even finger controls on the much smaller Desktop mode work ok, and are much better than I remember when trying Windows 7 with a touchscreen. Its not ideal but I can work successfully in Desktop mode even with just touch when I need to use Chrome or change a setting not supported in the modern UI. Microsoft really need to improve here though, adjusting something as simple as a notification sound requires going into Desktop mode.

I’m not going to go into detailed benchmarking or performance, this has been done far better than I could over at UMPCportal (see their review), but suffice to say the for my daily needs the tablet has been totally acceptable with no noticeable slow downs or stuttering performance.

I typically run Chrome with between 5-10 tabs open consistently, occasional Word and Excel usage (via the bundled Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Student, however I’m about to switch over to the full Office 365 Home Premium Suite to use Outlook) and some key software I need regularly.

Things I’ve actively installed on the tablet so far are: Total Commander (file manager), Paint.net (image editor), Juniper VPN software, uTorrent and Google Chrome.

‘In browser’ video playback from YouTube or Vimeo all work perfectly and unless you want to run heavyweight software like Adobe Photoshop or edit video footage, performance is really up to scratch.

And with a monitor keyboard and mouse all of this is extremely usable. I can effectively work, write articles, edit images and browse the web. Selected folders from my OneDrive cloud storage data are sync’d to be permanently available – the rest is available on demand as needed.

Apps wise from the Microsoft Store I’ve installed several things like Netflix, Tweetium, Evernote, Kindle and so on. The Windows App Store might not have the numbers, but most of the core Apps you’re likely to need are there now.

Negatives

So far in 2 weeks of usage I’m extremely pleased, and I’ve only come across a couple of issues.

microHDMI port – this was hit and miss to get the conenction working intially. I thought perhaps I had a bad connection of the port to the board as I had to press down on the lead for Windows to recognise the external monitor, however after successive connections/disconnections of the lead, now it seems to be behaving itself. I will kepp an eye on this.

Mobile Data – the Toshiba has no integrated 3G option which I would prefer. Its not a major issue as I tend to be working on WiFi and when I’m mobile I can always tether to my iPhone via a WiFi Hotspot, but still not having to do this would be better. Naturally this would increase the device cost, but £299 for integrated data I would still consider good.

Display port adapter – I have a USB2.0 display port adapter and using this on the supplied Toshiba 1.2 BIOS caused a lot of issues, even to the extent the tablet locked itself in ‘low resolution’ and wouldn’t open the Desktop or any Apps. I un-installed the DisplayPort software, updated the BIOS to 1.6 and then reinstalled again, and all seems ok now.

The display port adapter has taken over as my primary desktop connection method as it support DVI monitors, USB keyboard and mice, ethernet and so on all off a single connection. It does take up the microUSB port, but following this post I’ve ordered a StarTech “Dual USB A to Micro B” and will see if this works.

At the minute battery life is more than enough to power the tablet for a whole day while I work off a full size set of peripherals.

Summary

The test of using a tablet as a desktop replacement and media consumption device is really if you can work on it without compromise, and so far I’ve been able to do that. I wrote this post using it, and in the evenings I can sit on the sofa, browse the web and watch tv and movies on it. For me, so far, it’s totally succeeding in its goal.

This post was written by Rob Gordon, an IT geek, gadget lover and blogger. Rob has been using the internets since 1994 when the only streaming video was that coffee pot in Cambridge (rip).... Follow Rob on Twitter - @robgordon - about.me/robgordonuk